Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One Percent - Aldo Leopold

It makes a difference. The one percent.

You’ve seen the commercials. One person does something nice for someone, like picking up a package he dropped or holding the door. Someone else sees this and does something nice for another person down the street, and so on. A chain-reaction of helping others. But it’s more than a feel-good moment.

An experiment with the particle accelerator in Batavia, Illinois found a one percent difference between the number of muons and antimuons that arise from the decay of particles known as B mesons. This one percent more of matter particles than antimatter is the reason we don’t explode into smithereens.

Trying to save the natural world can seem like such a large task that we don’t even try. But we can save parts of nature in the cities where we live, whether this is blocking the company that picks up our trash from also dumping toxic waste into our landfill, creating a free recycling program, or convincing people to stop buying plastic water bottles. Aldo Leopold restored a sandy are along the Wisconsin River. His efforts led to the formation of The Wilderness Society and the idea that it’s often not too late to undo the damage we’ve done to nature. Others saw his work and started their own, like the effort to preserve sandhill cranes near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

In practical terms, what we do on the local level won’t slow global warming or save the glaciers from melting. Not by itself, but when our one percent is added to the one percent of others, we begin to have an effect on larger matters. And by working with our neighbors who may not agree with us but who trust us, we help change their minds and they begin to do their one percent.

One percent in the world is capable of changing everything.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tree With Leaves

The woods behind the house now has hundreds of interesting trees with a variety of leaf shapes and colors. For months this winter I saw only bare trunks and branches that basically looked the same, so I looked right past them to the hill beyond.

People are like trees, and what makes people interesting are their differences, their peculiarities, their way of talking and thinking, the way they stir their coffee when they’re perplexed, or don’t drink coffee at all. What makes us valuable as friends is sharing how we see situations from a different perspective. Each of us is a unique combination of experiences, history, and influences, and we need to let others see us as we are--the sometimes sad or angry, the excited and funny, the creative. People want to know our emotions. I learned this lesson the hard way through grief. If people like us, they will be willing to put up with our negative aspects because they want us to be authentic. If they don’t like us, then they’ll leave us alone and we won’t have to worry about pleasing them.

Pleasing others. This is one of my hang-ups. I want people to like me. I also want people to know who I am. And while I think that we all have a responsibility to help others when we can, I don’t think that we have any obligation to be pleasant when we’re pissed. I want to be a real person with emotions, dreams, and skills. I don’t want to be the bare tree in a forest that no one sees.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Walking Free

Out walking this morning, I was shocked to find that the world had gotten along on its own just fine without me. I hadn’t been outside in a week, being busy with tasks inside my house. In the meantime, the trees had changed from empty branches to umbrellas of thick green, bushes and plants were flowering, and birds were filling the air with their songs. I remembered that I was part of the world, not the other way around. It felt enlightening to be outdoors again.

As I walk, my breathing speeds up to match the pace of the body. My thoughts slow down to move at the pace of my breathing. My mind and body reconnect, unlike when I sit still at my desk and work with my mind, ignoring the needs of my body until I stand up stiff, hungry, and dehydrated.

I try to walk without a destination, without an agenda, without worrying if I’m walking fast enough for this to count as exercise. I try to leave all thoughts of projects at home and walk just to see what catches my attention, what thoughts come, what feelings surface. I try to walk free, at whatever speed feels good.

By walking, I loosen up the ligaments of my brain that I’ve strapped down to get work done. I let it run outdoors and play, creating games and stories for what I see.

It’s irresponsible, I know, to walk around my neighborhood with no purpose at all, but I still do it. The neighbors nod at me as I pass, without a clue about what I’m doing.